A report from last week's meeting of The ComVort Group

Nicky Unsworth, managing director of BJL, discusses last week’s meeting of global agency network, The ComVort Group.

How do independent agencies compete with the global networks when pitching for and working with clients outside the UK? Well at BJL we plugged that gap by joining The ComVort Group some 10 years ago, and during that time the network has grown to become the world’s largest independent marketing communications network. It comprises over 170 independent agencies from 60 markets across the globe.

Here at BJL we have collaborated with agencies in France, Spain, Belgium, US, Netherlands, Germany and India to deliver international campaigns and made many friends along the way. Collaboration spans a spectrum from total partnership and campaign development through to awareness of local markets and nuances, and help with pitches to ensure an international perspective. Clients who have benefitted from this include Pilkington, Kepak International, Johnson Diversey, Fruit of the Loom and Fisherman’s Friend, amongst others .

Recent years have seen the annual conference visit Chicago , Istanbul, Dubai, New York and Stockholm, and this year for the first time the conference was held in London.

In addition to BJL, UK agencies OWB Creative Communications (Birmingham) family (Edinburgh) AD Store, Crayon and Complete Media Group (London) joined the London conference for its four day duration to hear an array of speakers and then get involved in workshops to review opportunities over the next year.

Hamish Pringle, IPA President provided an inspiring start to the conference, sharing findings and predictions from the last 12 months of IPA research.

His conclusions prompted discussion and resonated with the conference room full of agencies from across disciplines – ‘Fame is the most powerful driver of effectiveness’; ‘TV is the most effective medium’; ‘Share of voice wins market share’; ‘Award winning creativity multiplies effectiveness’. He also predicted future client needs outside their ‘comfort zones’ of advertising and media into CSR, SEO, Social Media. By stretching clients, he argued, we can the lead the agenda rather than chase margins.

A panel of digital and general marketing leads from network clients Honda, Friends Provident, Sony and BT also called for expertise and innovation. They were supportive of the ideals and approach of independent agencies and their less corporate, more innovative style. Beyond innovation they also desired ideas and agency collaborations that work across channels, and an understanding of and focus on metrics. The focus on metrics was followed through on remuneration which is increasingly performance based. So although Honda reaffirmed that creativity can’t be bought like car parts, it’s performance is still expected to be measured in real-time.

Tess Alps, CEO of Thinkbox, put UK channel consumption in an international context. Her ‘convergence sandwich’ puts content between the bread of distribution and device emphasizing that content remains the most important feature.

The quality of speakers and content continued throughout the conference with considered debate around the prospect of Net Neutrality and more delight and wonder at the demonstrations of Augmented Reality and Articulated Naturality provided by Matt Trubow.

BJL contributed seminars on branding and the opportunities opened up to all markets by the adoption of branding in China.

What was evident at the end of the conference is that independent agencies have a thirst for knowledge, growth and creativity that is second to none. And this infectious drive and spirit is had seen many delegates survive and even thrive in the tough international economic climate of late.

And when the business of the conference had concluded we demonstrated that independent spirit in the awe-inspiring surrounds of Abbey Road studios. And as we all eagerly learned bass, keyboard, drums and vocals for an unforgettable performance, I was reminded of perhaps the most important message from the client panel earlier that day: clients want to work with agencies who they can get on with.

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